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Former Joe Manchin aides lobbied his office, Congress on Biden’s Build Back Better bill

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) gestures as he speaks with the media following Senate Democratic lunch, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 13, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Former aides to Sen. Joe Manchin lobbied his office and others in Congress on behalf of several corporate giants in the runup to the West Virginia lawmaker declaring he wouldn’t support President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion climate and social spending bill.

At least three former aides to Manchin represented nearly a dozen corporate clients in the October-December quarter that lobbied the House and Senate on the legislation, which is known as Build Back Better, according to a CNBC review of lobbying disclosure reports. Manchin said in December he wouldn’t back the bill.

The former Manchin aides lobbied on behalf of companies such as T-Mobile, Best Buy, oil and gas driller Kinder Morgan, mining company Perpetua Resources and chemical and biofuel firm Gevo.

International food and consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, which employs a former member of Manchin’s staff as a lobbyist, engaged with the West Virginia lawmaker’s team through a letter co-signed by other corporations, the company said.

The other companies and lobbyists mentioned in this story either declined to comment or did not return requests for comment. Senate rules say former staffers must wait a year after leaving a congressional office before lobbying their former colleagues. As long as they didn’t hit a certain salary threshold while working in Congress, they are allowed to lobby other members of the Senate.

Manchin announced on Dec. 19 that he wouldn’t vote in favor of the House-passed bill. Manchin has recently declared the bill “dead.”

Special interests and business leaders have ramped up their efforts to influence the conservative Democrat, who is a pivotal vote for his party in the 50-50 Senate. Likewise, since Manchin became such a critical vote during Biden’s tenure, several of his former aides have picked up several lucrative clients. They’ve previously lobbied for industries such as coal, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, tobacco, and finance.

Manchin himself has seen an uptick in contributions and corporations throughout the past year as he has resisted and blocked elements of the Biden agenda.

Lobbying on BBB

Unilever, which owns brands such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove beauty products, co-authored a letter that was shared with Manchin’s staff in October that advocated for climate policies, while partially taking aim at the proposed revenue provisions in the bill, a company representative said Thursday.

The letter, reviewed by CNBC, was co-signed by other companies, including Pepsi, BP America, Siemens and Mars Incorporated. The letter was also sent to other lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Devin Sears, a member of the Unilever government relations team, worked in Manchin’s office almost 10 years ago as a staff assistant. He is one of two company representatives who engaged the House and the Senate on “climate provisions included in the Build Back Better Act,” according to Unilever’s fourth quarter lobbying disclosure form.

Activist investor Nelson Peltz has taken a stake in the company through his firm, Trian Partners, according to multiple reports. Peltz, who once supported former President Donald Trump, told CNBC in October that he talks to Manchin every week and called the senator “the most important guy in D.C.”

Peltz recently contributed to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s campaign, D-Ariz., in the fourth quarter. Sinema, like Manchin, is a pivotal centrist vote. She has opposed raising certain tax rates and other key pieces of her own party’s agenda.

“While we support the inclusion of strong climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act, we look forward to discussing the revenue provisions including potential alternative approaches,” says the letter signed by Unilever and the other companies. “We recognize that significant investments are needed for progress, but our continued ability to tackle climate change, procure clean and renewable energy as well as invest in energy efficiency and technology, our workforce, and in the local communities in which we are rooted, require our companies to remain globally competitive.”

The most recent version of Build Back Better included a 15% minimum corporate tax on declared income of large corporations. Manchin has recently said that despite his opposition to Build Back Better he’s in favor of the 15% minimum corporate tax. Manchin has also pushed back on a proposed tax that would have targeted billionaires.

Lobbying reports show that Patrick Hayes, a partner at Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid who previously worked as Manchin’s chief of staff, represented at least seven clients that lobbied on Build Back Better in the months proceeding Manchin saying “no” to the bill. Hayes and others on his team represented on that bill include AmerisourceBergen, T-Mobile, Best Buy, Kinder Morgan, America Health Insurance Plans, the Industrial Minerals Association and Exelon.

Hayes stopped working for Manchin’s office in 2019.

The forms show that in the fourth quarter Hayes and his colleagues lobbied on Build Back Better to the House, Senate, the Executive Office of the President, the White House Office and other pieces of President Joe Biden’s administration.

Elliot Howard, who worked with Manchin on the Senate Energy Committee throughout early last year, lobbied with his team for four clients on issues related to Build Back Better. Gevo and Perpetua Resources were among those clients.

Howard and the other lobbyists on his team engaged the House, Senate and the Biden administration.

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